Oculus Rift

Could Virtual Reality Be the Future of Online Poker?

No matter how seasoned a live poker player you are, you have to admit there is still something special about walking into a casino, your ears instantly molested by the chimes of the slot machines, your nose instantly desensitized to the oddly comforting staleness of the air. There is that moment of exhilaration, no matter how slight, when you first walk into the poker room, as you hear the rattling of chips and think to yourself, “Tonight is the night I make ALL the money.” And then, of course, you settle in, stack your chips, look around at your opponents, and play some poker.

I live in Atlanta, so I have only experienced all that a few times in my life. My area is so devoid of casinos that there are billboards for Harrah’s Cherokee near my house with the tagline, “The closest real casino.” Harrah’s Cherokee is three hours away. It wasn’t until the last few years that the casino even had any games that used real cards.

VRWorld.com, though, speculates that one day within the next few years, I could sit at home (IN MY UNDERWEAR, RIGHT?) and enjoy a true-to-life poker game, including all the sights and sounds of a real casino. This could become possible because of virtual reality, or VR.

I thought Lawnmower Man was awesome in 1992.

I thought Lawnmower Man was awesome in 1992.

We were promised a couple decades ago that virtual reality was on its way, but technology had yet to catch up to our fantasies. Right now, though, VR is viable, as several companies, led by Oculus VR and its Rift device, are racing to produce the first useful, affordable, consumer virtual reality device. The Oculus Rift has garnered the most attention and rightfully so – the company has already shipped a couple hundred thousand development kits, so plenty of people have gotten a chance to see how it works. The results so far, have been impressive. The Rift is a visor that straps to your head, completely blocking out your view of the real world. It projects dual images from high resolution displays just inches from your eyes; the images envelop your vision, making you feel like you are in the world you are seeing.

The device is outfitted with sensors that track your head movement, so as you turn in real life, your field of vision shifts in the VR world, as well. Though products such as the Rift have come close to working in the past, one of the biggest problems was that as the images moved, they could not be redrawn perfectly smoothly. There would always be a little blur. This lack of 100 percent clarity was just enough to destroy the VR illusion, making a user’s brain know that what it was seeing was not real. The Rift fixes this.

The first application for VR devices is clearly video games. The Rift will even ship with an Xbox One wireless controller. I am an avid gamer myself (even if I don’t have much time to play right now) and I cannot begin to describe how excited I am for this. I might not buy it right away – let the price drop and let the early adopters work out the kinks – but I can guarantee I will have a VR device at some point.

VRWorld sees online poker as another area where virtual reality could be a real hit. It has *sort of * been attempted already, only without VR devices, just computer monitors. During the poker boom, True Poker implemented a first-person point of view for its poker games. Your hole cards were dealt face-down in front of you like they would be in a real casino and you actually had to click on them to peel up their corners. Your opponents could see you do this (though they couldn’t see your cards). PKR.com has also gone for the “realistic” game, presenting its poker games like a television broadcast. You can make your three-dimensional avatar express its emotions, stand up from the table, and dress in many different styles.

But virtual reality would truly immerse the player in the game. I can envision a site in which you login at the door to the casino, perhaps have security check your ID (your login info). You could actually stroll through the casino, looking around at everything just as you would in real life. Head to the poker room, check out the open games, perhaps reserve a seat, and then go sit down. Your view of the game would be just as it is in real life; no awful eyeball avatars, but rather actual representations of players in their seats. And they are there with you, too. You look at them, they look at you. You look down and see your chips in front of you. When the dealer flings you your cards, you can gather them up and take a look, perhaps grab a chip off your stack and place it on top of them. Take a look to your right to size up to the tournament scoreboard. Or if you are unlucky and get stacked, get the attention of a chip runner to come give you a reload.

It has the potential to be pretty amazing. VRWorld says not to expect any sort of VR poker room for several years, but if VR turns out to be legit (and we will find out soon – Rift ships in Q1 of 2016), why not apply it to online poker? There will certainly be people who will poo-poo it – I could see heavy grinders downplaying it because there would be essentially no way to multi-table in virtual reality. But man, it could really be fun. And I think that’s what has been missing recently from online poker: fun. It’s a game. If poker rooms want recreational players so badly, they need to help them enjoy the game. Virtual reality internet poker could be total blast. I know I would try it. Well, that is if I move somewhere I’m actually allowed to play.

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